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Psychiatric abuse in China
A Symptom of Disease
Michael Sullivan
9/19/2002

Due to compelling evidence provided by international human rights groups and Western scholars like Robin Munro, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) finally decided to investigate psychiatric abuse in China, an overdue but still fruitful undertaking.

The situation had become so precarious for the Chinese regime that it changed its strategy, from complete denial of psychiatric abuse to admittance, all the while holding fast to its claim that its mental patients are truly mentally ill. Dr. Arthur Kleinman, a well-known author on Chinese psychiatry, defended the actions of his Chinese friends by blaming “poor training, poor standards, and poor practice.”

To truly evaluate the information and opinions from different perspectives, one has to conduct a reality check on the context in which these “poor practices” have occurred.

Propaganda, economic and political leverage, and terror are the three powerful tools China’s authoritarian regime use regularly to entangle its own people into political campaigns such as during the Great Cultural Revolution, or more recently, with Falun Gong. People in China are fed with all the news they need to easily agree with the regime yet feel terrified if their mentalities lie outside communist ideology. To people who are afraid of knowing the truth, a collective denial is the best psychological defense. Psychiatrists in China are no exception. They have to make a choice -- following the Chinese leadership or following their own conscience, or as most are doing now, simply keeping silent in denial.

Like all academic associations in China, the Chinese Society of Psychiatry (CSP) is an agency controlled and sponsored by the Chinese regime. With the tradition of “putting politics first”, the leaders of the CSP can only repeat to the WPA the slanders of Jiang’s propaganda.

“ Poor training, poor standards, and poor practice” have been problems in Chinese psychiatry for a long time. Under severe pressure during the Great Cultural Revolution, several prominent Chinese psychiatrists committed suicide or switched fields. Western psychiatric theories were criticized against Mao’s thoughts.

However, they cannot explain the sudden explosion of psychiatric abuse (or as the Chinese would claim, the onset of the “peculiar, rapidly spreading mental illness”) in China during recent years. It is the political force that has driven some corrupt, unethical, and ”poorly trained” psychiatrists to realize their political ambition. On some occasions, psychiatrists and psychiatric facilities were forced to do so. It does not amount to systematic abuse of psychiatry according to Dr. Kleinman’s standards, but an overqualified element of systemic abuse of human rights against people the regime does not like.

By the same token, the abuse of psychiatry in China cannot be regarded as an independent entity of disease itself, but one of the symptoms of a notorious disease called dictatorship. Therefore, WPA investigators may be able to enter China out of mercy, or tactics of the Chinese regime, but they surely will not have any better luck than the UN weapon inspectors in Iraq. After America figures out that a change in the regime is the cure for the threat from the Iraqi dictator, it should not be too difficult to see what must be done to stop the abuse of psychiatry in China.


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